The 8th annual pride festival QueerFest opened today at a spacious art space in the center of St. Petersburg, in a warm and festive atmosphere. Over 220 visitors (up to the maximum limit of the venue) enjoyed the photo exhibition «The Kids» by Gabriella Herman from the US, who addressed guests in a recorded video. Other speakers were representatives of diplomatic missions of the kingdom of Netherlands and Sweden, representative of ILGA-Europe, Swedish human rights organization Civil Defenders, artists and activists whose art is presented in the program, and of course the festival’s organizers.
«The space for civil freedoms is diminishing in our country, it’s true. But it doesn’t mean the space for our human rights work has to diminish. The happy truth is that the more the space for civil freedom contracts externally, the more this space is expanded internally – inside the communities, inside ourselves. We become stronger, more diversified, more aware. We might not have the power to change the repressive laws, but we have the power to invest in people: to establish dialogue with the society around us, to find new allies, and to continue empowering the LGBT people of Russia. What can be more important?» said in her words of greeting Polina Andrianova, head of «Coming Out,» the group that organizes the festival.
The event took place without interruption and not a single counter-protester showed up.
«This is the first time in 8 years that we experience no attacks or pressures on the festival opening reception,» says Ana Anisimova, festival’s coordinator. «This is a great relief, but it’s only the first day of the festival, and we need to keep «on our toes.» No matter what lies ahead, the festival’s program will be realized in full, as is every year.»
There are 9 more days of the festival ahead, featuring workshops and discussions on the topics ranging from «Moving Beyond the Binary Sex and Gender», to «Intersex: Invisible Reality», to the final concert on September 25th by the lead vocalist of Kosheen, the UK «platinum» group.
The time has come for the 8th annual pride festival “QueerFest”, which will take place September 15-25 in the streets and venues of St. Petersburg, Russia.
The topic of this year’s festival is “Seeing the Invisible”. QueerFest wants to give voice to the groups within both the society and the LGBTQ communities, whose existence is invisible and whose problems are silenced. These are LGBTQ living with HIV and LGBTQ with disabilities, transgender* people and people with non-binary identities, LGBTQ families and LGBTQ survivors of domestic abuse, and many more. Organizers would like to invite guests to learn and share the experiences that are often silenced or left behind.
QueerFest 2016 is aiming to be more inclusive. In addition to the variety of events and topics covered, this year’s festival is providing space for LGBTQ groups and initiatives from regions of Russia (Moscow, Vladivostok, Novosibirsk), and post-soviet countries (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine) to organize their events as part of its “Open Space” program. QueerFest will also provide sign language translation and the main venue will be equipped with wheelchair ramps.
The program includes artists and activists from Great Britain, Iceland, the US and is built around the main event – photo exhibition – featuring project “The Kids”, authored by American photographer Gabriela Herman. The traditional closing concert September 25 will be headlined by Sian Evans (popular English group Kosheen), whose debut album “Resist” received “platinum” status in the UK.
QueerFest has grown and developed over its long lifespan, professionalizing and diversifying its program, attracting well known-artists and activists, and audiences from around the world. But one thing stayed common to all the years: the extreme pressure from authorities and homophobic activists to disrupt the event, using all methods: from pressuring venues to discontinue the rent hours before the event, to fake bomb threats, to hooligans spraying putrid liquid at the event participants.
“This year, the opening of QueerFest is three days before the local and federal elections. This could be a curse, or a blessing, but overall, we don’t foresee our security situation to be any different. We still have plan “B” and plan “C” in place to move the events to different venues at the last minute, to make sure our guests stay safe and our diverse and rich program is realized,” says Ana Anisimova, QueerFest coordinator.